Management & Operations

Transit agency gives riders something to watch

Posted on August 1, 2004

Passengers on two of the Utah Transit Authority's (UTA) fixed-route buses can now enjoy some laughs watching I Love Lucy reruns during their ride, courtesy of TVs installed for a pilot program.

The Transit Television Network (TTN), based in Orlando, Fla., provided UTA with flat-panel television screens for the program, which was scheduled to last through November. "Rather than just jump into it, we wanted to test it out on a couple of buses on a route where we could measure customer response," says Clair Fiet, UTA's chief technology officer.

Improving transit's image
The TVs are part of UTA's plans to improve riding conditions for its passengers and the public's perception of transit. "We're looking for ways to improve the image of our bus system," Fiet says. "This just seemed like a win-win situation."

The 10-week pilot will give UTA time to gather opinions from riders and make a decision on whether its entire fleet will be outfitted with the TVs, or if the systems will be removed. Initial responses to the idea weren't positive. "When we first announced it in the newspapers, we got a flurry of negative responses," Fiet says. "And then we implemented the system, and immediately we started getting e-mail from people who were riding the buses saying, 'What a great idea.'"

Building a media package
TTN's television sets do not play standard television, but receive pre-selected feeds from a PC on the vehicle. "On a daily basis, TTN takes media feeds from here and there — even local information like weather and local news — and builds it into a media package," Fiet says. The media information is then sent to a UTA server where it is stored. While a bus is fueling, it downloads the information via a wireless connection and stores it on a PC installed in the vehicle.

TTN controls the media played, but agencies using its system can provide the company with advertising and media regulations that must be followed when the media packages are being compiled. Each system runs local news and weather clips, ads and old TV shows in a one-hour loop, with 18 minutes of sound every hour. In addition, one side of the screen shows a real-time travel bar that lets passengers know of the bus' progress and its upcoming stop.

According to Fiet, UTA is negotiating the content of the media played and the volume at which the TV sets can be played. Sound is sometimes lost on the bus for a variety of reasons, and TTN has found that certain aspects of the media feed can be made silent to avoid sound transmission problems. Fiet adds that the possibility of continuous sound from the TVs was a big concern for riders who enjoyed the quiet of the bus. Though UTA hasn't received complaints about the sound since the TVs were installed, the agency feels it might be bombarding passengers with the small amount of sound that is already put out. Also, eliminating all sound will be easier on operators who must hear the feed during their entire shift. Feedback from UTA and other agencies using the equipment is helping TTN develop a separate silent-feed business plan.

Equipment is free
If UTA decides to retrofit its entire fleet, TTN will provide the equipment, installation and maintenance for free. If the TVs are well received, UTA could possibly receive a share of TTN's profits made from its advertisers. Before UTA began the pilot program, it was in touch with Chicago's PACE and the Milwaukee County Transit System, both of which have the system installed in their fleets. Fiet says that contact is what kept hopes high at UTA in regards to the project, despite initial rider resistance.

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